Twenty-eight-year-old Erin George is the second of three daughters of powder coating company owner Dan George, who lost a two-year fight with brain cancer in February. Erin has stepped up to be president of George Manufacturing Inc. (Lebanon, OH), the shop her father opened in 1995 after leaving his family machining business to start a powder coating line for outdoor basketball hoops. Now, under Erin’s direction, the company has launched its own brand, Hoops by George, to supply the systems directly to homeowners.
We recently chatted with Erin about being a young woman in a male-dominated industry, growing a business during a recession and what it means to carry on a legacy.
How did you get started in the company?
EG: When my Dad was diagnosed in with brain cancer in May of ’06, I moved back to the area the following month. My background is in human resources, so I had an advantage as far as how to deal with employees and regulations but little practical knowledge of running a manufacturing business. I started out as the controller so that I could understand the books—what we did and how we did it and who are the people we can help. It was a big adjustment period.
After about nine months of being with the company I moved from controller to president. I was appointed to be the lead decision maker in the company, and my Dad agreed with that, knowing he couldn’t do it at the time.
What was it like to take on that role?
EG: One of the hardest things was knowing my Dad’s core employees as a little girl and coming into a position where I was technically their boss. They had been working with him for 15–20 years. My Dad treated his employees like family. The morale of the shop and the general attitude was just sad. But we all knew the most important thing was for Dad’s legacy to live on.
How has the industry received you?
EG: I get a lot of funny looks when I tell people what I do. But overall I’ve felt welcomed, and I think that had a lot to do with the type of person my Dad was. When an owner of a small business passes away, people assume the doors will shut. I may not have the experience he had, but what I tell customers is that I’ve got excellent people working for me that are the best in the field.
Sometimes it’s a communication challenge, not only because I’m young, but probably more because I’m female. They’re more sensitive to my feelings, which is nice, but I just want to know how it is. Also, I come from corporate America, and I’m used to having five meetings a day. I had to learn about the pace in a job shop. For me to call a meeting in the middle of the day is a big obstacle in their schedule.
What have been the greatest challenges so far?
EG: The biggest challenge is the housing market and the economy as a whole. In this economy in manufacturing you’ve got to grow, be sold or shut your doors. And we want to grow. We’ve got a plan to do it. We’re expanding our manufacturing abilities. We’ve put some investment into batch processing for powder coating and enhancing our Web sites (georgemfg.com and hoopsbygeorge.com).
We want to step up our marketing and really take customer service further, providing solutions for customers. We’re a plant that can fabricate, powder coat, package and deliver, and we’re focusing a lot on serving customers that need quick turnaround. The goal is to double our sales in the next two years.